June 3, 2020

"Mary Sweeny... was an American woman known as 'the Window Smasher' because of her mania for breaking glass windows across Wisconsin and neighbouring states during the 1890s...."

"One cause of her window breaking sprees was reported to be drinking; it was also noted that she was seeking vengeance against medical doctors. She is said to have used cocaine to self-medicate because "it quiets her nerves." She was quoted as liking 'to hear the glass jingle.' She broke windows of shops and trains using anything to hand, including stones, sticks of wood, or a satchel. Authorities dealt with her by arresting and jailing her, hospitalising her, committing her to insane asylums, and paying for her rail travel to another town. She boasted that she would quickly escape from hospitals and asylums, and succeeded several times. Her sanity was assessed by doctors, who declared her sane, or as one newspaper stated, She appears to be perfectly rational on all subjects except that of window smashing.' She did not know why she broke windows but did it only 'when the craze seized her.'"

Wikipedia tells the story of Mary Sweeny — whom you will remember if you ever read the book or saw the documentary movie "Wisconsin Death Trip."

I'm thinking about Mary Sweeny today, as so many people in our country now seem to have acquired a mania for breaking glass.

I first blogged about the movie "Wisconsin Death Trip" on March 4, 2004, less than 2 months after starting this blog. I said:
Is there something especially morbid and sick about Wisconsin? As a person living in Wisconsin, I had to wonder if the book was picking on us, or, no I didn't really, because there is always the out for us here in Madison to say Madison is an island of difference within the state. But I knew this film was well regarded.... It was quite beautiful and original visually and quite moving and full of fascinating characters (like Mary Sweeny, a cocaine-sniffing woman with a mania for breaking glass)....

We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place. (Notice the characters in movies who say they are from Wisconsin: Annie Hall, Jack Dawson in Titanic, etc., etc.) So I am thinking: to show the dark side of Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity. This story of Black River Falls in the last decade of the nineteenth century is (as presented through the film, if not the book) a universal story of passion and violence and death and madness.
There were no comments on the blog back then, but it became possible to comment later when I activated the comments function. There is one comment there now, dated June 11, 2009. It's Meade, whom I met in January 2009. He said:
I shall move to Wisconsin and protect you from the dark side of humanity. It will be my mission of love... my raison d'etre.*
The dark side of humanity has not gone away, Meade's mission continues, and I'm still looking for the light. I've taken up the ritual of running to see the sunrise over Lake Mendota — over Lake Mendota and the Mendota Asylum for the Insane — which is now called the Mendota Mental Health Institute — where Mary Sweeny was committed in 1897.
_________________

* I corrected Meade's typo, and I also corrected my misspelling of "Mary Sweeny."

33 comments:

David Begley said...

Meade! How sweet. I can see why Ann married you. Very romantic and traditional. And some French too!

Speaking of traditional romance, wonderful courting scenes in my, “Frankenstein, Part II.”

Meade said...

Big talking, smooth commenting, bad typing man.

Unknown said...

Carrie Nation had a thing about hatchets, too.

When Pres. McKinley was assassinated, she praised the event, thinking that he drank in secret.

Ann Althouse said...

Trying to figure out what song lyric (if any) Meade was parodying there with that

I thought of "Sweet Talkin' Guy," but that's probably wrong. Still, we just listened to that and take a minute to click through, because it's so great. It's by The Chiffons, best known for "He's So Fine"* At one point in "Sweet Talkin' Guy," they sing "Oh, he's so fine" — a presumably deliberate reference to that other song.

Sweeter than sugar, kisses like wine
(Oh, he's so fine)
Don't let him under your skin, 'cause you'll never win
(No, you'll never win)
Don't give him love today, tomorrow he's on his way


_________________

*The song George Harrison repurposed for praising his sweet lord.

Ann Althouse said...

Notice that George used the word "sweet," so he may have been thinking of multiple Chiffons songs. I'm thinking now about the notion that George's "sweet lord" was a sweet-talking guy.

The God of the Bible — hang on while I walk over to a church and hold up my Bible — is not a sweet-talking guy. It's terribly un-sweet really. Check out some of those quotes in Genesis. Unbelievable!

Louie the Looper said...

I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
By Nick Lowe

I love the sound of breaking glass
Especially when I'm lonely
I need the noises of destruction
When there's nothing new

Oh nothing new, sound of breaking glass

I love the sound of breaking glass
Deep into the night
I love the sound of its condition
Flying all around

Lurker21 said...

I love the sound of breaking glass
Especially when I'm lonely
I need the noises of destruction
When there's nothing new.

tcrosse said...

My raison d'être will be to find the lost circumflex.

Lurker21 said...

We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place.

Ed Gein? Jeffrey Daumer? More here.

When my dad retired, he could always watch WWII documentaries on cable. Today everything that isn't reality TV is serial killers and murders. Watch enough of it and it gets to people.

Howard said...

How many people are breaking glass, Althouse. One in a million? One in 100,000? Not so many in the grand scheme. But maths doesn't fire up your right-wing bootstrapping law and order freedom rebel deplorables.

Meade said...

"Trying to figure out what song lyric (if any) Meade was parodying there with that"

I was thinking more along the lines of:

With keyboards and spell-checkers they started back down
Came those sickening clicks from that digital merry-go-round
And when the snark and stink belched out of that blog
Everybody knew it was the end of the road for big Meade
(Big Meade, big Meade)
Big bad Meade (big Meade)

Now, they never reopened that bloggy snake pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this blog lies a big, big man
Big Meade
(Big Meade, big Meade)
Big bad Meade (big Meade)
(Big Meade) big bad Meade


(apologies to Jimmy Dean)

rehajm said...

One cause of her window breaking sprees was reported to be drinking

We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place


Bartenders the world over recognize Wisconsin residents tend to be sophisticated, pro tour level drinkers. Jeffrey Morgenthaler devotes entire sections of his book to describing the sophistication of Wisconsin drinkers but I haven't heard that drinkers in Wisconsin have mastered heavy drinking and avoiding intoxication.

Could have something to do with it...

D 2 said...

What I took from this post - beyond all the big sweet french talkin man stuff - is that even as far back in the 1890s, government officials were openly identified with “being at a loss” as to what to do with glass window smashers.

As the French would say: Plus ca change l....

Wince said...

Lurker21 beat me to it...

I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass

Deep into the night
I love the work on it can do
Oh change of mind
Oh a change of mind
Sound of breaking glass

Fernandinande said...

She is said to have used cocaine to self-medicate because "it quiets her nerves."

That's a real phenomenon (like supposed ADD and amphetamines), but apparently only for people of gender.

gilbar said...

She is said to have used cocaine to self-medicate because "it quiets her nerves."
She was quoted as liking 'to hear the glass jingle.'


Let's be Honest. Who among us Doesn't self-medicate with cocaine, because "it quiets () nerves"?
and Honestly, who Doesn't like 'to hear the glass jingle'? Especially while self-medicated

Calypso Facto said...

"Authorities dealt with her by arresting and jailing her, hospitalising her, committing her to insane asylums, and paying for her rail travel to another town." And "authorities were at a loss as to what to do with her".

In this enlightened age, we've decided to embrace the madness and PAY protesters to stop traffic, attack cops, and break windows.

rcocean said...

She was "turned on" Wisconsin by those dastardly Minnesotans. They knew how to write back then.

rcocean said...

Given Humanity's behavior God's stern talk isn't stern enough.

tim maguire said...

I don't think there's anyone who doesn't find the sound of breaking glass highly satisfying. But most of us don't break glass on purpose because it's such a hassle to clean up.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

Are you crazy?
I detest the sound of breaking glass.
Something went horribly wrong when that sound happens.

Timotheus said...

Speaking of breaking glass: It’s ironic that Antifa calls themselves “anti-fascist” while engaging in the same kinds of actions that real fascists took against Jewish business owners during Kristallnacht.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Satisfying?

Bilwick said...

Had she lived in our time, the Mad Window Breaker would undoubtedly have come up with some "woke" shibboleth to invoke to excuse her vandalism. Similar to the Howards and Ingas who always come up with some feeble excuse or other to rationalize their gang's propensity for Democide.

Temujin said...

The light you seek is right there within you, Ann. It's in all of us. We just need to recognize that it's there, turn it on, and use it.

It's hard when there's so much dark thrown about. And I should know. I throw a lot of it. I'm trying to curb it.

tcrosse said...

I own one of these: Gag breaking glass hammer. It was a million laughs at work to adjust someone's screen.

n.n said...

Antifa calls themselves “anti-fascist” while engaging in the same kinds of actions that real fascists took against

Diversity. Selective-Jew. Redistributive change. #Occupation. Secular religion. Let us bray.

Paul Snively said...

Dr. Althouse: She is said to have used cocaine to self-medicate because "it quiets her nerves."

A 7% solution?

mikee said...

For the sake of your sanity, don't ever read any Texas history, Althouse. Our fair state was where people came, who couldn't adjust to the rest of the world.

Ann Althouse said...

I’ve been to the Texas historical museum in Austin. There’s a post about it somewhere in the archive.

garrison said...

My grandfather was a resident of the Marinette County Asylum, Mental Health Institution, and Poor Home in 1916 when my dad was born. The county asylum was built in 1906 so Mary never got to live close to home. In 1970 a series of exposés and associated political pressure led to a mass release of Mendota inmates who were deemed manageable with drugs. I lived next to one of them in an old Victorian on W. Main. In my experience the experiment was a failure. After Willowbrook and Geraldo, it was the liberal thing to do. I also lived down the street from one of Ben Sidran and Steve Miller's former bandmates who had returned from Frisco as a somewhat dangerous drug addled zombie. No one imagined how bad these things would turn out.

ken in tx said...

The state mental hospitals all over the US were emptied out in the 70s by federal court orders. I was a Psychiatric Nurses Aid while in college, on the night shift, right before it happened. The liberated patients were supposed to be treated at out-patient clinics and supervised by social workers. It didn't work. They wouldn't take their medication, or show up for appointments. The social workers couldn't find them. They preferred drinking under bridges and in abandoned houses.

Roger Sweeny said...

OMG, we are the small minority Sweenys who spell it with only two "e"s. And she does too?